Cents-Less

Rushing around in the predawn hours before yet another day at school, such a daunting number of tasks demand attention that it would seem as though I would have no choice but to clone myself in order to be everywhere at once. Even after my first cup of coffee sends caffeine surging through my veins, the manic race to get out the door and beat my train into the station feels like an impossible triathlon. Having never been an athlete of any sort, the odds are clearly stacked against me from the get-go. Throwing various books, skeins of yarn, and lunch items into my bag with abandon, it’s easy for the minute details to get lost in the fray. Many a day do I arrive at school and instantly remember that report that was left on the kitchen table, or those notes that were painstakingly written out and thoughtfully placed beside my computer, where they all still remain. Worst of all is when my wallet is the item du’jour that has been temporarily forgotten – Something that happens embarrassingly often.

Tactlessly trying to avoiding train conductors looking to collect the ticket that is now miles behind me, this first inconvenience is only the beginning. The real trouble is when lunch comes, and those cruel vending machines selfishly refuse to cough up just one measly bottle of water for me. Hands scraping along empty pockets, my throat feels dry enough to rival any dusty desert. Cursing the consumerist society that puts a price on a necessity as basic as water, there’s usually little choice but to accept my thirst and manage it for the remaining hours of the school day, until a bountiful faucet is at my disposal once more.

This time, however, a fellow classmate saw me looking anguished in front of these uncompromising drink dispensers and inquired as to the source of my distress. Looking quite blue himself, I hardly felt that I had any right to complain about my own malaise, especially when it was all caused by my scatter-brained oversight. Quite the trooper, he swore up and down that he was honestly better than it seemed, beaming with a bright smile that made it hard to doubt his assertion.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he generously offered to spare me the pain of thirst and confidently thrust the requisite number of coins into my hands. Feeling guilty to have evoked such pity, I attempted to convince this kind samaritan that I really would be fine. Although I normally find it very difficult to accept money, even after working a job or completing a commission, it didn’t take him long thwart my arguments and wear me down. After all, what’s a few cents between friends?

As much as I hate relying on the kindness of others, this strapping young fellow was quite the god-send. I wish it were as easy for me to remember some simple spare change as it is for him; It seems like no matter what happens, he always has extra coins tucked away somehow!

Big News

Thinking of something as an unforeseen event typically evokes negative connotations for me, as the past couple years have been full of some pretty painful surprises. Usually when this phrase comes up, it is accompanied by some terrible news, more horrendous than even the previous hardship. Well, time continues on and now change is in the air, pushed gently ahead by the cool breeze of a new season, straight into what could very well be the next chapter in my life. Suddenly I find myself face to face with another unforeseen event, but this time, it’s so fantastical I can hardly believe it’s true. The surprise is similar, but the accompanying joy is completely unfamiliar. Good luck is not something I tend to have in abundance, if at all, but now it seems as though I’ve won the lottery. However, my prize is far greater than any sum of money.

You may have already noticed some changes taking place here, namely in the frequency of my posting. Priding myself on taking no breaks, posting almost everyday, it would appear as though I’ve started slacking. Truly, it’s quite the contrary; I’ve been working around the clock, with scarcely a moment to complete my homework! Countless hours have been spent slaving away in the kitchen, even more so than usual, because… Well… I can’t believe it myself, but I’ve been working on recipes for my own cookbook of vegan desserts!

When I was first approached by Alisa of Go Dairy Free about this possibility, I was incredulous, to say the least. I still am. Honestly, the timing has been so perfect, it’s an absolute dream come true – Just days before receiving her first email, I had been musing aloud to my mom about how much fun it would be to actually compile my recipes for a book. A real book, a published book… It doesn’t even sound like a reality yet!

So please bear with me if I don’t have as many new posts available for your reading pleasure, but rest assured, I’m still crafting like mad despite my baking frenzy. For now, I’ll leave you with just a few teasers of what you can expect to find in my book…

Nautie Little Fossil

It feels as though all of a sudden, spring must have crept in through an open window one night. It was marked on the calendar right and proper, and I do remember observing daylights savings, (Pointless ritual that it is) but the lengthened days of sunlight and warmth are still a shock to my system. After that winter that really wasn’t, it hardly feels right to continue on without it, but what is one to do? Mother nature won’t be bothered with such petty complaints when there are seeds to sprout, flowers to bloom, animals and insects to prod out of hiding! The season is still young, but there is so much to do; Spring could hardly wait another day before manifesting itself! Small mounds of compacted snow still remain, spotting the earth like unsightly pimples on an adolescent face, slowly retreating back into the ground and further distressing the swollen streams. Watching them melt makes the landscape appear some how changed, different from the last time I saw it without a covering of slick, glistening ice. Come to think of it, some thing was definitely out of place here… I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Pacing around the muddy dirt immediately outside my garage door, an unsettled feeling rose steadily in my gut. What is it? What’s wrong? It was driving me mad. Having lived here for the majority of my life, I should be able to tell when some thing is amiss. Venturing further and further from my haven, it was another few minutes before I finally laid eyes upon a large rock near the perimeter of our property. Out of the way and easy to overlook, I was certain that something about it was drastically changed even from my present distance. Picking up my pace and seeing the full picture in clearer focus, I was shocked to see exactly what it was that had disrupted my sense of normalcy.

No small fallen branch or waterlogged tree truck, sitting in plain sight was a multi-million year old Nautiloid! Unearthed by the motion of melting snow, there was no denying that this was an authentic piece of history in my backyard, a small glimpse into a world that we can only make educated guesses about with today’s technology. While on rare occasion our backyard has been known to cough up a random fragment of clay pottery of mysterious origin, this find was unprecedented! What to do? Who to tell!?

Coiled contentedly around itself, eyes unblinking, I was fairly sure that my little nautiloid wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. After unimaginable lengths of time buried beneath the earth, I would imagine that a few more minutes would hardly even be a drop in the bucket. Feet pounding the soggy terrain, I made a mad dash back into the house to alert some one, any one still home. Scaling stairs about as gracefully as a drunken leprechaun, my breath was growing short and yet not a soul could be found to share my amazing discovery with. Just my luck!

Finally, after a torturous wait, my parents returned from an early grocery expedition and I ambushed them, pregnant with news. Dragging both all the way into the corner of the yard, we all peered with excitement at the designated rock to see… A big rock. The nautiloid was gone! Perhaps it was able to stay hidden for so long because it wasn’t exactly fossilized after all… But I guess the world may never know.

Super-Sized

Serving sizes in your typical American restaurants have frequently pushed the envelope to convey the idea of offering a better deal to their customers, but it’s lately begun to cross the line straight into absurdity. Take a look at your plate next time you eat out – Would that have been a normal portion had you served it up in your own home? As a sign of wealth and abundance, it’s easy to understand the draw for frugal consumers, and the prospect of repeat patronage entices producers to lower their prices, albeit in direct proportion to their quality. Sadly, money tends to be the driving force in decisions that should have more to do with either taste or health, creating a highly economical and addictive sludge that some people call “fast food.” Even if it isn’t purely junk food in question, what point are we trying to prove when a monstrous meal that could stuff a whole team of football players shows up at your table, with you being the sole recipient instead? Some eateries are even becoming known primarily for their outrageous displays of excess, but honestly, is there ever a time that one would need to ingest a burrito the size of your head all in one sitting?

Despite knowing the truth about such compromised but copious “value” meals, sometimes we must make do with what’s available and put ourselves at the mercy of those massive menus and overly-generous servers. Short on time and energy as dinner approached one day, I took just such a gamble and tried to pick up the most edible veggie burger I could find. What was placed in front of me after a brief wait was in sharp contrast to the innocent order I thought I had just placed.

Too thick to even fit in my mouth all together, the towering stack of bread, soy cheese, patty, and veggies dwarfed my bottled condiments as if they were simply misplaced childrens’ toys. Intimidated, I wasn’t sure how to approach such an large veggie burger, but began preparing to disassemble and redress my feast with a nice smear of mustard as per usual. It didn’t take long for me to see that even if I did manage to put it back together, there was no way I would be able to actually take a bite out of it!

As much as my meal seemed immense at first glance, it barely even tipped the scale in comparison to so many other offerings out there these days. In fact, spreading each layer out further, it almost even appeared to be a reasonable amount. Perhaps I was going through denial, wanting only to dig in and forget about what was best for my body, or maybe this is just a standard side-effect of prolonged exposure to America’s steadily inflating eatables. This is in fact a common symptom of what I like to call the Super-Sizing Syndrome. Inability to gauge hunger, insatiable cravings for deep-fried anything, and a lack of will to refuse otherwise unappealing fast food can be other signs of this dreaded ailment if nothing is done in time. Speak to your doctor if you think that you or a loved one might be afflicted, because the longer you wait, the worse it gets.

Despite my hunger, I suddenly just wanted to escape the grease-soaked seat that I occupied in the restaurant, fearing in earnest that the Super-Sizing Syndrome might take me as its next victim before long.

 

When it comes right down to the fact, it’s ultimately up to one’s own point of view on appropriate helpings, whether those decisions are made by an intoxicated brain, influenced by the Syndrome, or not. It’s all relative after all… I just think I might be happier far away from this unnaturally voluminous fare, where I don’t need to consider the repercussions of polishing off my whole plate.

Not All Chocolate Is Created Equal

Few if any flavors on earth have quite such a die-hard following as chocolate. It has a long and speckled history, being deemed first delicacy, then a source of evil, gaining favor again and becoming aphrodisiac, and finally being linked to heart-health in this day and age. In our own personal histories, I would bet that this indulgence comes up quite frequently as well, in numerous forms such as cakes, cookies, or just a solid bar of it itself. While it’s practically obligatory for me to wax poetic about my own unwavering love for the “food of the gods” at this point, I must confess that chocolate had never been something that I really craved. Sure, it certainly wasn’t a bad addition to desserts in general, and I was always forthcoming with new cocoa-based recipes for those insatiable demands from my loved ones, but I could almost guarantee that even as a child, you would never find me reaching for the chocolate bars stashed neatly away on the top shelf. For some reason, I just never fully understood the draw, the passion that some people had for what I considered to be nothing more than a chunk of ground beans and sugar. ...Until now.

Little did I know that my ambivalence towards the stuff had more to do with the chocolate itself than my own taste buds. After a few years of trying new foods and becoming accustomed to my developing preferences, I simply wrote it off as some other sweet item, no different than any other flavor out there. It turns out that all that time, and even as a vegan now, I had been under the influence of… cheap chocolate. The horror! Pinching pennies and conserving my food budget for other kitchen staples, chocolate had always gotten the short straw, and in the case of this highly esteemed bean, you really do get what you pay for. With unnecessary additives for shelf-stability and mass production, what found its way into my pantry had about the culinary value of Spam.

How did this revolutionary concept ever occur to me with my head buried deep within my “mockolate,” you may ask? Well, unbelievably lucky as I am, I recently had the great fortune to have some real chocolate fall into my lap – And I’ve continued falling with it ever since. Lake Champlain Chocolates, made in Vermont from only fresh, natural ingredients simply look like bona fide jewels compared to what I’m accustomed to. Although many of their offerings are not vegan, they do have an impressive selection of dark chocolates without any dairy, including some tempting hot chocolate mixes among other various products. Usually being rather limited even in my selection of cheap chocolates at the grocery store, I was thrilled to stumble upon a whole package of all-vegan chocolate squares in their repertoire.

Totaling 24 seductive squares making up 6.7 ounces of solid, unadulterated cocoa bliss, the mere sight of the Select Origin Chocolates box is enough to make even the most indiscriminate chocoholics and voracious omnivores sigh with desire. Almost everyone will agree that better quality chocolates don’t need the addition of extra sweeteners or milk to enhance their natural flavors, and Lake Champlain Chocolates will confirm this notion once and for all. If you still consider anything this indulgent to be junk food, just consider the health claims when it comes to pure dark chocolate – With all the natural flavonoids and anti-oxidants, there shouldn’t even be any guilt attached to this purchase!

Representing various geographic areas in which cacao is grown, this box claims that different beans contain a wide range of unique characteristics which become detectable after fermentation. Proving such a theory might be difficult with for many name-brand mockolates out there today, sourcing ingredients that are of questionable origin themselves, but if anyone could ever do it, Lake Champlain would be the ones to put it to the test. Included in this mouth-watering assortment are beans grown in Africa, Grenada, Sao Thome, and Tanzania, in varying percentages of cocoa content.

I must preface by saying that as a recent convert to the way of the cacao bean, I have no expertise in evaluating this most beloved prize. Like an ignorant beginner in wine-tasting, the words “woody,” “dry,” or “thin” make no connection in my mind to any sort of food-related memory. That being said, I can tell you what I enjoy and why I think it’s good, which is really what counts when it comes down to choosing your after dinner treat, isn’t it?

That being said, the moment this new, potent incarnation of everyone’s favorite aphrodisiac hit my tongue, I knew there was no turning back. Every glossy square was composed of the smoothest, most velvety substance I’ve ever experienced putting in my mouth – So obscenely silky that I hadn’t before even considered it to be a natural texture in terms of food. The magic came in the first bite, snapping a corner clean off with one swift cleave of the teeth and an audible ‘pop!’ that rang through the air like a bell. Slowly melting, allowing one to savor every last drop of flavor, it was nothing like any chocolate I had ever known.

Starting at the lightest end of the scale for cocoa content, the 54% African Blend was first on my hit list. Deliciously sweet and simple, it reminded me of some of my best experiences in childhood with chocolate chips and bars. The creamy texture had me hooked, although the overall flavor was nothing I found particularly spectacular that would make it stand out in comparison to other chocolates on the market. Moving up to the 60 % cocoa from Grenada, I found that this percentage had only a mild increase in flavor intensity, making for a slightly less sweet but still very mellow and pleasant flavor. Since this was only a 6% discrepancy, I hadn’t expected them to have jarringly diverse tastes overall, but I was so far only moderately impressed.

When I got to the Sao Thome at 70% however, all five senses went wild. The aroma, the feel, the smell, everything told me that this would be a pleasurable experience. Instantly I discovered it had a markedly unique tone, coming off as being deeper, richer, and somehow infinitely smoother. The simple sweetness present in the earlier squares had dissipated, now replaced by a more mature and sophisticated bite. Bowled over by this sensation, it was incredible how such a tiny amount of chocolate could focus my whole system on the experience of consuming such a luscious commodity. I swear that just a crumb could have coated my entire tongue like the softest and most comfortable blanket I had every taken shelter beneath. If I could only have one type of chocolate for the rest of my life, it would be this kind that I would demand, without question. I exaggerate not; While I’ve encouraged my mom to share much of this treasure with me, if one of those from Sao Thome turns up missing, there will be hell to pay.

Finally, reaching the uppermost level of cocoa content at 75% with the square from Tanzania, perhaps my taste buds had just reached their climax and tired out, but this one didn’t strike me quite as much. Still fantastic and intense, all the sweetness had been replaced by pure chocolate essence. At times the faint bitterness would remind me of a nice, strong cup of black coffee, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This one was very strong and not something that the children would probably take a liking to, but I found it to be a luxurious extravagance quite befitting of an after dinner nibble. Certainly not something I would turn down if offered, unlike my early response to any sort of chocolate up for grabs.

Whether you buy into the idea of potential health benefits, nuances in flavors depending on origin, natural ingredients, or anything else that this package offers up, there are few sweets more satisfying to the soul than chocolate. Now that I’ve learned the error of my ways, it will be difficult to sate my appetite for such high-end vegan chocolate, but truly, the sacrifice will be worth it; Was it not Shakespeare who said “T’was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

In addition to their year-round selection of truffles, chocolate bars, and chocolate covered-almonds, they have holidays covered at Lake Champlain Chocolates as well; Can you say “solid dark chocolate Easter bunnies?”

I suppose that this may be the one time that it’s perfectly vegan to eat rabbit! Just try to restrain yourself and divide this sweet fellow up into multiple portions for your own sake – After only scratching the surfacing on this 9.7 ounce cocoa bunny, I think I could be on the verge of a cocoa-induced coma right about now… But even so, I think I finally understand what makes quality chocolate worth all of the obsession, and even possible chocolate comas.

[Written for Go Dairy Free]